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Court Slaps Verizon's Hand at Wireless-Access Appeal

By Craig Galbraith
December 05, 2012 - News

Three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday rejected Verizon Wireless' claim that it shouldn't have to share its nationwide network with smaller competitors for their customers' mobile Internet use.

The Federal Communications Commission recently decided that mobile-data providers must offer roaming deals to smaller cousins such as T-Mobile and MetroPCS, who don't have national networks but want to be able to give their customers seamless access to the Web, much like they can with voice calls, Bloomberg pointed out. But Verizon – and AT&T, which also challenged the ruling – thought the FCC was overstepping its bounds. The appeals court panel unanimously sided with the government agency.

“We are extremely delighted with the court’s decision," said Stephen K. Berry, president of the Competitive Carriers Association (fka Rural Cellular Association), which represents the interests of rural and regional wireless operators. "The fact that the court made such a prompt and well-reasoned decision, at least in my mind, is a clear and convincing indication of the overwhelming strength of the intervener and FCC arguments presented to the court. The court’s unanimous and unequivocal support for the FCC’s action and authority bodes extremely well for the competitive issue of roaming and other competitive issues that CCA will continue to pursue." 

Any change to the rule wouldn't have come into play until 2017, anyway, as Verizon already said it would go along with the FCC's decision for five years. Verizon could now take the case to the full Court of Appeals panel if it so chooses.

Tuesday's ruling could have some implications on Net neutrality discussions in Washington as well, said one industry analyst.

"We are still reviewing the 30-page ruling, but the decision could provide some encouragement for the FCC in litigation over the agency’s Open Internet (Net neutrality) order, which is also being challenged by Verizon as well as MetroPCS as lacking authority, among other things," noted Stifel Nicolaus' Christopher King. "The FCC’s Title III broadband authority over data roaming could prove useful at least to its defense of the Open Internet order’s provisions affecting wireless broadband, though that authority does not cover FCC regulation of wireline broadband."

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